Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The Opportunity Costs of Bad Government

BFTF actually has another blog, which can be found at www.nottinghamscience.blogspot.com and is called the Nottingham Science Blog (or NSB for short).

NSB aims to summarise many of the wonderful sciency public lectures that are given at the University of Nottingham, Cafe Sci or Trent University, as well as reporting on events such as the University of Nottingham's "May Fest" where Nottingham is invited to come along see a wonderful display of hands-on activities, talks, and displays that explain what the researchers at the University are up to. It is a great day out.

And then there are British Association of Science events such as "Science in the Park" at Wollaton Hall, where, again, adults and children alike can interact with researchers to understand what they are doing.

Meanwhile, BFTF also occasionally interviews researchers and posts transcripts of the, invariably interesting, stuff they said.

BFTF loves, really loves, writing the NSB. There isn't, so far as BFTF is aware, anything else like it in Nottingham.

The UK aspires to be a knowledge economy. One would hope that a blog like NSB would be a help, in some small way, of moving towards that goal, of encouraging people to love science and to showcase at least some of the great sciency stuff that happens in Nottingham.

The Nottingham Science Blog

But if you look carefully at the stats you will see that hardly anything has been written since May 2013. Now from May to September, BFTF was on the mother of all fitness drives, hence no output during that time. But what about the three months since? Why isn't there much stuff from Sep-Dec13?

It's not like there is a shortage of material, BFTF has jotters full of scribbled notes from lectures that need to be converted to posts. And there are plenty of hi-tech companies in the region who could be showcased on the blog.

So what gives?

The answer is that Bad Government gives.

Every moment that BFTF spends volunteering to mitigate the effects of bad government policy, or to stop bad policy being implemented, is a moment that could be more productively used elsewhere, such as helping the kids with their homework, writing stuff for the NSB, interviewing scientists, learning about the UK's energy policy, growing vegetables, and many other activities...

All these things are the opportunity cost of spending time volunteering on social issues. BFTF has no doubt it is the same for most volunteers. The loss that this represents to British Society in terms of advancing and developing must be staggering.

Foodbanks
BFTF has spent a significant amount of time over the last three months helping with a foodbank. The government may think that Foodbanks are a great example of the "Big Society" but the reality is that they are ridiculously inefficient - ordinary working people get taxed and then with the little money they have left they buy food to give to foodbanks, and then Fooodbank volunteers, with the little time they have, arrange to give the food to those in need.

It's so inefficient as to be almost a sign of a dysfunctional society. And meanwhile the taxman and supermarkets take their cut along the way. Especially the taxman.

The NHS
BFTF loves the NHS and it is consistently listed as one of the institutions that people value most. When the government does something stupid that threatens the NHS, BFTF is going to act. And again the result is that other, more productive things don't get done.

Benefit Changes
A major source of people being referred to foodbanks is the slowness of implementing benefit changes. The time and effort taken to challenge local councillors (who often do not respond initially) is time and effort that could be used more productively elsewhere.

Acting like Kim Jong-Un
Imagine my surprise when, in the same week as North Koreas leader Kim Jong-Un's freshly disgraced uncle was airbrushed out of a documentary, the Conservative government in the UK decided to purge 10 years (2000-2010) of speeches from their archive. It's almost as though they don't want the public to know what they promised the British public they would (or would not) do when in government.

It seems reasonable to challenge the government on why they are acting as though Soviet Russia was their role model, and this is something that will, again, mean that more productive things don't get done.

May 2014 : Tea Bags
Coming home after a fairly busy day at work, there were many things that BFTF wanted to be doing on the evening of May 1st 2014.

Writing up a report on a fascinating public lecture by a researcher on antibiotic resistance was high on the list, with the aim of making people aware of the great public lectures that are held in Nottingham....or helping No3 son practice his maths for the SATS exams that are looming, with the aim of helping him get the best marks possible...or preparing for a talk on trees in Nottingham to some kids at BMCC.

But instead of any of these productive activities, BFTF spent the time breaking down boxes of tea bags into sets of 20 and bagging them up to go into foodparcels at the Himmah Foodbank. Foodparcels that will go to local people who cannot afford to buy enough food to live on. The top three reason people are having to resort to using foodbanks, according to Trussell Trust analysis of their data are Benefit Delays(31%), Low Income(20%) and Benefit Changes(17%).

BFTF resented every minute spent packing those tea bags - because BFTF pays taxes SPECIFICALLY so that we can all live in a civilised country - one where the government uses those taxes to ensure that people have a safety net, one where people have the RIGHT to expect that, if they suddenly fall on hard times, the state will be there to give them a hand up.

BFTF, in short wants to live in country of fairness, compassion and justice, not a 60million person version of Lord of the Flies.

When the government FAILS TO DO ITS JOB, the opportunity costs, in terms of what citizens have to give up to fill in the resulting gaps, is shocking - and seems to be completely ignored by politicians.

And, just to be clear, all the other members of the Himmah Foodbank team were also unable to perform other, more productive activities because of the time that they were giving to paper over the cracks left by bad government. Time that they were spending in, for example, organising food collections, or delivering foodparcels, or liasing with referring agencies.

And the Himmah Foodbank is just one (and a relatively small one at that) of the many Foodbanks in Nottingham.

A bread basket full of 20-teabag-packs, for adding to foodparcels.
Why are ordinary citizens having to give up their time to do this?

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